Gears of War: Judgment
System: Xbox 360
Genre: Third-person Shooter
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Developer: Epic Games, People Can Fly
Release Date: March 19, 2013
No matter what happens to the Gears of War series in the future, Judgment is always going to be an outlier of sorts. After Epic Games released the fantastic conclusion to its trilogy in 2011, it seemed the book had been shut on the series, at least until the next console generation. Since the sequels were released with 2-3 year gaps in between, it came as a bit of a surprise that a fourth entry was to be released just over a year after the last.
Gears of War: Judgment is a prequel that takes place 15 years before the original trilogy, so it basically has free reign to try out some new ideas. Some work, some don’t.
This time around the campaign has been reduced to a series of brief, arcade-style missions, and most of them can be completed in a matter of minutes. The main emphasis is on getting a high score and acquiring ribbons based on how well you are playing. Each mission has a 3-star system, and the more kills you get, the faster the stars fill up. All of this is tied into an overarching XP system that lets you level up and customize your selected character.
Within each mission is an option called Declassification, and their purpose is to provide an extra challenge by changing the environment settings, restricting you to a certain weapon loadout, increasing the amount of enemies, and so on. By accepting this option, the stars fill up faster, and you can gain more XP. Some of these tweaks are interesting, but I never found it too difficult to get three stars without accepting these bonuses.
There is also an extra chapter set during the Gears 3 timeline that offers the traditional series gameplay. While this add-on can be finished in an hour or less, it’s nice to at least have that option to play the familiar way.
With such a focus on high scores, the campaign offers little in the way of a well-developed or exciting plot. The four main characters — Baird, Cole, a Russian vet and a female ex-journalist — are on trial for treason, and each chapter of the campaign shows their different recollections of the questioned event. Unfortunately, there are very few, if any, memorable setpieces, and the dialogue is sparse and devoid of any of the trademark goofy humor the series is known for. Those looking for the Gears campaigns of yore will be greatly disappointed.
However, even though the campaign does feel lacking in many ways, I did have a lot of fun with it. The combat system is as smooth as ever, and the 4-player co-op is an absolute blast. It’s easy to drop in and out of other players’ campaigns, and if you get a good group together, it’s one of the better co-op experiences on the 360.
The competitive multiplayer mode has also received a major overhaul. Gone are old favorites such as Horde, Guardian, Warzone and Wingman. In their place are two new modes — OverRun and Survival — as well as Team Deathmatch, Free-for-All and Domination.
Both OverRun and Survival switch things up a bit by allowing players to select different character classes for both COGs and Locust. COGs have four options: Engineers who can repair fortifications, Medics who can heal squadmates, Soldiers who can provide ammo, and Scouts who can spot enemies from afar. On the Locust side, there are eight types of monsters that can be controlled, ranging from Tickers all the way up to the vicious Corpsers (similar to the Beast mode found in Gears 3).
In OverRun, the COGs and Locust square off in a 5×5 battle with the goal being to either defend or destroy three objectives. This takes place on a very large map, and after every round the objectives are moved to a new location.
Survival mode is this game’s answer to Horde, as it is basically a stripped-down version (no fortifications) where you are supposed to protect an objective while facing several waves of enemies. It’s an interesting twist on a tried-and-true concept, but it really just made me wish there was also a standard Horde mode.
For those willing to indulge, there is still a lot of depth to multiplayer, even with the lack of familiar modes. I have a feeling some favorites will be released as DLC in the future, but as for now there is still enough substance to satisfy most Gears vets.
I have to give credit to the developer, People Can Fly, for trying something new with Gears of War: Judgment. The weak narrative and arcade-style campaign will bother some, but the bite-size missions are addictive, especially when played co-op. The new multiplayer options are also enjoyable, even if it would have been nice to have at least some of the old favorites ready from the start. While certainly a lesser Gears title, it’s still a good one, and it has me excited to see what the next console generation brings to the series.